Sam Francis on the Roots of Liberal Hegemony

F. Roger Devlin writes:

His magnum opus finally sees the light.

Samuel T. Francis, Leviathan and Its Enemies: Mass Organization and Managerial Power in Twentieth-Century America, Washington Summit Publishers, 2016, 791 pp., $48.00 (hardcover)

American Renaissance’s audience has been both increasing and getting younger in recent years, so many readers may not know that Samuel Francis was a good friend and frequent contributor to this publication from its founding in 1990 until his death in 2005. Before he turned to white racial advocacy, Francis was active in the conservative movement, working at various times for the Heritage Foundation, the Washington Times and the paleoconservative flagship publication Chronicles. He was a well-known critic of neoconservatism.

Leviathan and Its Enemies does not develop Francis’s thinking about race, which is summarized in his Essential Writings on Race. This book, published for the first time this year, is his contribution to the theory of elites.

Sam Francis’s thought was heavily influenced by the American political theorist James Burnham (1905-1987). And as Francis himself pointed out, the roots of Burnham’s thinking are highly unusual for an American conservative. Beginning as a Marxist in the 1930s, Burnham came to believe that the capitalist bourgeoisie, which dominated the society and politics of the 19th century, had been displaced from power not by Marx’s proletariat, but by a new elite of managers and technicians: men with the expertise required to direct the large enterprises typical of the 20th century economy. He developed this theory in his best-known book, The Managerial Revolution (1941).

Burnham later gravitated toward classical elite theory, as developed by the Italian social and political thinkers Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca, believing it provided a better foundation than Marxism for understanding the managerial revolution he had described. The heart of elite theory is the principle that all human organizations are necessarily oligarchic in structure. Dictators, for example, cannot truly rule by themselves, but are always dependent on a group of men who accept their authority; these men, and not merely the dictator personally, constitute the elite of such societies. In democracies it appears that the broad masses of the people choose their leaders, but according to the elite theorists, it is really the leaders who have themselves chosen by the people. Even political parties advocating radical forms of democracy are forced, if they wish to be effective, to take on an oligarchic form, with a small party elite commanding the allegiance of a larger base. This has been called the iron law of oligarchy.

But elites are not permanent. Politics is a continual process of circulation of elites. Much of the history of the early modern era, for instance, can be interpreted as a process whereby entrepreneurial capitalists (the “bourgeoisie”) displaced the aristocratic landed elites inherited from feudal times. And according to Burnham, the managerial revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was one in which the bourgeois elite inherited from the 19th century was replaced in its turn by a new managerial elite that continues to rule us to this day.

Samuel Francis’s Leviathan and Its Enemies is a systematic development of these ideas, with a few revisions and extensions, as well as a defense of Burnham against rival schools of thought. The completed manuscript was discovered after his death, and he is not known to have made any attempt to publish it while he lived. Bits and pieces of the theory appeared in his columns of the 1990s, and I remember at the time wishing he would treat it more fully and systematically.

During the 19th century, growing population and urbanization led to what has been called a revolution of mass and scale, which may be defined as a dramatic process of enlargement in almost all areas of organized human activity, including producing, consuming, governing, communicating, fighting, and even worshiping. Traditional private and local forms of social organization proved unable to cope with this historically unprecedented growth. At the same time, new technologies were making larger organizations feasible, including not only physical technologies such as telephones and business machines, but also the application of psychology and the social sciences to human behavior (“scientific management”).

In Francis’s words: “The rearrangement of human societies within and under mass organizations was necessary to contain, discipline and provide services for the new mass populations and the exponential growth of social interaction.” Francis distinguishes three principle forms of organized human behavior in which this transformation occurred: the business corporation, government, and what he calls “organizations of culture and communication.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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